Are you hoping to purchase a home soon? There’s a lot to think about, especially in today’s constantly shifting market. Finding the perfect house can be like finding a needle in a haystack. Luckily, you don’t have to navigate the process on your own. A local real estate agent who specializes in helping buyers find the right home can be a crucial help for any house-hunter.

What is a buyer’s agent?

Typically, real estate transactions involve two different real estate agents: the one who represents the seller, and the one who represents the buyer. As the buyer, your buyer’s agent is your guide on the home-shopping journey — their primary responsibility is to help you find the home that best suits your needs and your budget, ticking as many boxes as possible on your wish list.

Your agent performs several other duties as well, including handling necessary paperwork, drafting and submitting offers on your behalf, assisting with negotiations and coordinating the closing process. If there are any hiccups along the way, a buyer’s agent can also play an instrumental role in preventing the deal from falling apart.

Buyer’s agent vs. listing agent

While a buyer’s agent represents the buyer, listing agents work on the other side of the real estate transaction. They represent the seller and are responsible for listing the property for sale and positioning it to attract top dollar. Listing agents also help sellers sift through offers received from prospective buyers and negotiate on their behalf.

Buyer’s agent vs. ‘selling agent’

Confusingly, a selling agent is not the same thing as the seller’s agent. In fact, quite the opposite: Once you enter contract on a home, your buyer’s agent may now be referred to as the “selling agent.” The two terms are often used interchangeably in the industry, but regardless of terminology, your agent is still yours, and still working on your behalf.

Do I need one to buy a house?

You’re not legally required to hire a buyer’s agent in order to buy a house. You always have the option to find a home and negotiate the terms of the purchase on your own. However, it’s not the preferred method for most homebuyers. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), an overwhelming 87 percent of buyers chose to hire a real estate agent to assist with the homebuying process in 2021.

It’s in your best interest to do so for several reasons. For starters, a knowledgeable real estate agent with extensive experience in your local area can give you a competitive advantage in finding and bidding on homes. This is especially true in areas where inventory is low and demand is high.

Having an expert on your side also provides assistance with the purchase agreement. Clauses, disclosures and contingencies can be confusing, and you’ll want someone who understands them to make sure they work in your favor. An agent can also help you negotiate potential seller concessions if the inspection reveals issues with the home. Most importantly, you’ll receive professional advice and answers to any questions you may have.

How much does a buyer’s agent cost?

This is the best part: Real estate commissions, which usually total between 5 and 6 percent of the sale price split between both agents, are paid for by the seller. So the seller pays their own agent and yours as well.

How to find a buyer’s agent

There are a lot of real estate agents out there — more than 1.5 million, according to NAR. How to find the right agent for you? Asking around for recommendations is a great place to start. “Speak to friends, ask local business owners and look out for signs on the street,” says Dennis Shirshikov, head of content at the real estate investing site Awning.

If you see “sold” signs in your desired neighborhoods, you may want to reach out to the agents who brokered those sales as well. You can also search online for agents who’ve successfully closed transactions where you’re looking to buy.

Once you have a list of names, narrow it down by doing some online research. Then pick three or four to interview, asking plenty of questions to determine how each one works and how they would help you find what you’re looking for. You want someone you click with, someone you can work well with.

“Look for responsiveness and communication skills,” Shirshikov says. “If communication skills are poor, and you keep missing each other on calls and emails, you’re unlikely to buy a property [together].”

It’s equally important to ensure they can handle any potential issues that may arise. “Ask the agents you are interviewing to discuss some difficult situations they faced with past clients,” Shirshikov says. “If the agent responds in a positive way and puts the client first in disputes, that’s an agent to stick with. If they have never encountered tough situations or have handled them poorly, look for someone else.”

Signing a contract

When you decide on an agent to work with, they will most likely ask you to sign a contract, or exclusivity agreement, acknowledging that they are representing you for a stipulated amount of time. This is normal. But before signing on the dotted line to make the partnership official, review the entire contract. Ask them to address anything that’s unclear to ensure you are both on the same page. Finding a home could take some time, but the contract term typically won’t exceed six months. Once that timeframe expires, if you still haven’t found a home, you’ll be free to explore other agents.

Bottom line

Buyer’s agents play an essential role in the homebuying process, especially for a novice or first-time homebuyer. An experienced local agent can help make finding a home, submitting offers, negotiating favorable terms and getting to the closing table a smoother experience.